What’s the buzz all about?

Pollination is the process that leads to the production of the fruits we eat and the seeds we need to grow more plants. It is the process of transferring pollen from flowers to flowers to aide fertilization and encourages new propagation. Natural pollinators are highly effective and although man can mimic the pollination process done by many species, no amount of mimicry can compare to the efficiency of the many different bee species. Of the large variety of bee species, I find the bumble bee to be the easiest to identify as well as the easiest to actually see the pollination process.

There are over 250 bumble bee species worldwide with 49 of them being native to North American (Inouye). Scientifically they can be identified by dividing them into three groups based on the length of their proboscis or tongue (long, medium and short), but the best way to identify a bumble bee is by its fairly large round shape, super fuzzy body and the amplified buzzing sound emitted by their wings. The bumble bees tend to build nests in old hollowed out logs, abandoned rodent holes and other locations down on the ground. The queen will borrow into the ground and hibernate throughout the winter while the rest of the colony will die off in fall. During the spring the new queens come out of their borrow, find a suitable place for a nest and begin to collect pollen and nectar to help feed the first generation of worker bees to hatch. The bumble bee queens will rear a few generations of worker bees which are all non-fertile females to help collect pollen and nectar to help feed the final generation, next year’s queens and fertile males (NPS).

The bumble bee is a hugely important pollinator because of the efficient techniques in which these bees can collect and transfer pollen. The bumble bee will bite the flower in its jaws and use its flight muscles to microscopically and violently vibrate the pollen grains off the flowers anthers this is called buzz pollination or sonication (Inouye). The pollen will stick to the fuzzy body of the bumble bee as well as sticking to what is referred to as pollen baskets or sacs on the back legs. As the bumble bee flies from flower to flower each time carrying away a little pollen as well as transplanting pollen from flower to flower and possibly fertilizing hundreds. “The average mass of pollen and nectar carried by bumblebees returning to the nest is around 25% of their body weight. However some bumblebees fly back carrying as much as 75% or more of their body weight!” (Nature mapping).

Humans are deeply invested in the health status of bee populations because of the environmental services they provide and because of it many species are being commercially developed and shipped all over the globe, even in places they don’t naturally occur. Another hot topic is that bees are of conservation concerns. Human activities including habitat degradation, pesticides, diseases and floral resource depletion can have detrimental effects to bee populations (Inouye). Bees are of major importance to the Earth’s ecosystem functionality and are worth giving a second thought before smashing them out of fear of being stung. Next time you got a big bumble headed your way, think about the significant job that bee performs before reacting with fear. LH Fairbanks

“Bumblebee.” Nature Mapping Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Inouye, David. “Bumblebees (Bombus Spp.).” United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. University of Maryland, n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

“Pollinators – Bumble Bee.” National Park Services. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.


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